Sunday, August 30, 2009

Customers Who Bought The Pot Thief ...

I think what excited me most when my book came out was seeing the cover on Amazon has been a boon to small publishers and unknown authors. We may not be on the shelves of the corporate chains, but our Amazon pages look just like the big boys, the same amount of space with the same features – instant order, inventory amounts, kindle versions, editorial reviews, product details, author pages, tags, customer reviews, listmania, and discussions. Two other features I never paid much attention to are “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” and “What Do Customers Ultimately Buy After Viewing This Item?” There was always a list of books purchased by people who bought The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, but what about the other way around? I checked it out today and discovered Pot Thief is on the “also bought” list for some other books, among them A Thief of Time by Tony Hillerman, The Connoisseur Chasing Cezanne by and Jewels: A Secret History A Thief of Time I have no clue why Finley’s book on jewels is there, but it got good reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist, so I’m happy to be in her company.

My “What Do Customers Ultimately Buy After Viewing This Item?” list is even more exciting for me and readers of this blog. According to Amazon, 84% of people who view the Pot Thief page buy the book. Is it the great cover? Is it because the page has been viewed only by my closest ten friends and eight and four-tenths of them bought the book? I think it’s the great reviews by Marilyn Meredith and Holli Castillo. 16% of the people who view my page buy Gumbo Justice! Marilyn Meredith’s No Sanctuary and Kindred Spirits, Sunny Frazier’s Where Angels Fear, and W. S. Gager’s A Case of Infatuation are also mentioned but with no percentages given. If you look at “What Do Customers Ultimately Buy After Viewing This Item?” for any Oak Tree book, chances are good you’ll see one or two other OTP books on the list. Go team.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Should We Save Historic Buildings?

In the little community where I live, we haven’t saved many of our old historic buildings. Some of that loss is due to turn-of-the-century fires that destroyed many of the structures in the old downtown.

Recently, we had a chance to rescue an important aged building that over the years has served a huge number of people in our little town.

But we didn’t.

Those involved said it would be far too expensive to renovate this big old brick building that in recent years has housed a medical center. They simply did not have the funds to fix it up.


This building once served as a community center for our town. Clubs met there. Dinners and luncheons were served. Children took dancing classes. Before the days of kindergarten in the public schools, a private kindergarten was taught there. Later, when there were public school kindergartens, the community center class became a nursery school. And there was a teen club with Friday evening dances. Perhaps most memorable of all, art classes were taught on the upper floor in a flood of light beneath the skylights.

The photograph shows the brick building to the right that now has been demolished.

Lots of memories for lots of people.

Bulldozing equipment has wiped those memories away. Memories have been leveled for a parking lot or flattened for some other purpose.

Ours in a truly historic town. Soon after the settling of the first permanent English colony at Jamestown, Captain John Smith explored our rivers—we sit on three—and our creeks--I live on one. The Indian tribes were here long before that and two reservations--the Mattaponi and the Pamunkey--remain nearby.

Still, we have not learned from history. Still we have not saved our historic buildings.

Should we?

Should we as writers do more?

Can we?

©2009 Mary Montague Sikes

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

PSWA Conference

For all of you thinking about going to the Public Safety Writers Conference, do sign up before October 31 as that's when the early bird registration fee ends.

We had such a great time last year and I know it's going to be even better this year.

Joyce Spizer Foy has changed her topic idea to Putting Zing Into Your Screenplay but she's also going to cover screen play writing.

Steve Scarborough is coming back but hasn't told us what he's going to tell us about but it will be something to do with forensics.

Simon Wood is a multi-published author in mystery, thriller and horror and he's going to tell us how to rev up the suspense.

Michael A. Black (those who went this year met him, he's still an on-duty cop) is also a multi-published mystery and other genre author, and he's going to tell us how to develop a plot in one hour.

And of course OTP's own Michael Orenduff author of the wonderful Pot Thief will be showing and telling us all about what makes a good cover and what doesn't, along with the help of his wife.

Oh, and fun, fun, Sunny will let us know how much sex is too much.

We've already got some panel ideas and we'll figure out a way to use everyone who wants to be on a panel.

The registration form is up at


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Interview on Author Exchange Blog

Check out my interview at

It was a cool experience and I must thank Sunny Frazier for turning me on to the website and the chance to get a little free publicity on the web.

Stop by and leave a comment. If you haven't signed up yet, you should think about it. It was completely painless and Linda Faulkner was extremely professional and quite nice.

I do have to say the interview contains a bit of unintended irony--in the paragraph where I mention editing your query letter, I have a typo! My bad for not carefully proofing after I rewrote a sentence.

Holli Castillo
Gumbo Justice

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Want to Tag Along?

Hi Folks,

Tag My Book on Amazon may be a site for you to try.
The idea is to select the three most important tags for your book and list them along with a synopsis of the story and connecting info with Amazon. You then submit your book and go about tagging books already listed on the site. The additional tags have lifted Secrets by the Sea to number 1 for Antigua tagged books and number 7 for gothic on the Amazon tags list. It takes time, and I don't know if it may increase book or kindle sales down the road. However, it's another place to gain exposure!

Want to tag along?


Monday, August 17, 2009

Fairly Fabulous State Fair!

Here's a great pic of Yolanda and JD Webb manning our table in the Hometown Pride Tent at the Illinois State Fair on Saturday. I had to act quickly to catch the table in one of its few down-traffic moments of the day.

This experience definitely goes under the "You Just Never Know" category. Yolanda pressed me to sign up, and I was very grumpy about it...too hot, I said...people at the fair won't be interested in books, I said, a lot of trouble for little to no return, I said. Well, needless to say, I got to munch on those words all the way home because we were busy all day, chatting up the Prose in the Park Conference with people, talking about OTP Books, JD's books, showing off Monti's gorgeous Hotels to Remember art book. We were the busiest table under the Hometown Pride Big Top!

Among the people who stopped by were library board members from other towns in Central Illinois...they were eager to have info on our books and show support for an home-grown indie publisher. Also a couple of mayors talked with us, and one explained how he pushes his town library to patronize indie press books and local books. Dozens of people took information on the conference.

I had book marks, post cards, business cards and sell sheets from Marilyn Meredith's books, Sunny Frazier's, Monti, some of our Dark Oak titles, Patricia Sheehy and more. This fellow stopped by, interested to see that he was the topic of Alan Bower's "The Last Stop"...

All in all, it was a great day. The spot in the tent cost less than a nice lunch, and we did more business in an hour than I did in a three-day stint at Book Expo some years back, which cost thousands. So the lesson is you gotta give everything a chance, and just because you're the big cheese, it's no indication that other people won't have a dang good idea!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Preview of the PSWA Conference

Suspense and mystery writer Simon Wood is going to be one of our keynote speakers.
He's going to talk about "Creating Suspense".

OTP author Michael Orenduff and his wife are going to give a presentation on "A Good Cover is Worth a Thousand Words."

Another OTP author, Sunny Frazier, is going to talk about "What is Too Much Sex?" That should be an attention-getter, right?

Michael A. Black is going to instruct us on "Developing a Plot in One Hour."

We are fortunate in having Joyce Spizer Foy return to talk about "Is Your Hero too Good and Your Villain Too Bad."

We've got some dandy ideas for panels for other authors to participate in.

So save the dates June 17 through 20 for the PSWA Conference in Las Vegas. Don't have the exact details about the hotel as yet, but all the information will be up on the website sometime this week.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Blogging Counts

On July 30, I posted a blog about two independent bookstores that were going out of business. I was especially dismayed when I learned of the demise of Creatures & Crooks where Wendy Howell Mills and I had a joint signing with Hamilton, the giant cat. I sent an e-mail with a link to the blog to the wonderfully supportive owner, Lelia Taylor.

Yesterday, I received a lovely e-mail from Lelia who said she appreciated the comments in my blog. She invited me to participate in a signing on September 12 and also to come to a Farewell to Hamilton party that is by invitation only on September 26. We will really miss her bookstore and smiling face, but Creatures & Crooks is leaving in a blaze of glory!

This is another example of what a great connection we have here with the Oak Tree blog. Blogging counts! Aren't we glad?


Google your book title

I decided to Google the title of my book and was pleased to see it has a life of its own that I didn’t know about. The following item turned up in both the newsletter of the Las Cruces Museum of Art and the Las Cruces Sun-News:

The Reading Art Book Club is dedicated to exploring the connections between art and literature by reading and discussing books. Upcoming selections include a fictional look at a developing art collector in The Connoisseur by Evan S. Connell as well as The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras, a mystery by J. Michael Orenduff. Funded by the City of Las Cruces, the Las Cruces Museum of Art is located at 491 N. Main Street. in the downtown mall.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Book Launch Party for Gumbo Justice

I'm gearing up for the book launch party for Gumbo Justice this Saturday at my bar-that-isn't-really-a-bar-yet. We've had some Code Enforcement issues with zoning and parking, so the parish hasn't given us a liquor license yet. The only difference is that I have to give free drinks instead of selling them, and people can bring their kids because it's not a bar but a private building. If anyone is in the New Orleans area, it's at 424 Destrehan on the Westbank, Saturday at 7 p.m..

Sarah Cortez, who I met at the PSWA conference, is coming in with her husband for the night to attend, which is exciting. I am also having a gumbo contest, inviting people to bring their pots of gumbo. Everyone will get to vote on the best tasting and the winner gets to name a character in the follow up novel I'm currently working on. I have 3 or 4 people definitely signed up, and a few more just found out and have expressed interest, so it should be fun.

I don't know if I will actually sell that many books, although I will have them available. One of my friends from high school and gymnastics reserved 2, one for her and for our gymnastics coach from way back, but most of my friends have already bought the book, so we'll see.

I also had 40 invitations printed through Vista Print--it was relatively cheap to get invitations with my book cover and the party info, my email, website etc., and I printed directions on the back. Both sides were in color and the invitations came with little envelopes. Since I invited most of the people I know through Facebook, and by telephone and email, I sent the invites to the book stores in the area. It wasn't quite forty stores, but it was enough. I figure none of the store owners may show up, but it will get my book in front of them to consider. And we have spoken to some of the owners already, so hopefully it will be a reminder to them if they are interested in selling the book.

I also had a newspaper interview last week in Fayette, Alabama, where we keep an evacuation house. It's in north Alabama, in the hills, and the paper probably covers an area of about 12, 000 people. The reporter was just as interested in how we found Fayette in the first place as she was in my book, and she was floored when I told her my mother in law, my husband's aunt, and the aunt's sister have all also bought houses there.

The reporter also wanted to know if I was going to ever write about Fayette, and I told her I planned to have Ryan Murphy, my lead character, visit Fayette in one novel and a murder or attempted murder will happen. (They have had 2 or 3 murders total in the last 25 years in Fayette, so that would be a big deal indeed.) She said she can connect me with the local police investigators if I ever need to talk to them, and the fire people, etc., which is nice to have an "in" in the town.

The paper only comes out on Wednesdays, the same day of the week that the garbage is collected, so the article will either be out tomorrow or the following Wednesday. The reporter is supposed to email me when it comes out, and parts of it are online, although I don't really think my book will make front page news to make the online version, even in such a sleepy town. But if it does, I'll post a link.

Holli Castillo
Gumbo Justice

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Pot Thief Book Tour featured in "Scribbler"

The Houston Writers Guild asked me to write a short piece about my recent book-signing tour for their newsletter called Scribbler (circulation 600). The piece just appeared today in the “From the Trenches” section of the September Issue, Vol. 12 No. 11. It carried the headline, “Mike Orenduff Conquers Texas and New Mexico on a Wild Book-Signing Tour.” I did not write that.

Here’s what I did write: On Friday, June 10th, my wife and I loaded three hundred copies of The Pot Thief Who Studied Pythagoras and half a case of Bombay gin into my car and drove from Valdosta, Georgia to El Paso, Texas. Even though it was over 1500 miles, we never touched a drop of gin until we were safely in a hotel room, preferably one where no vermouth had ever been uncorked; we like our martinis dry.

The first signing was at the Barnes & Noble on the eastside of El Paso, and the publicist for our alma mater, Ysleta High School, had arranged for some of the students to come. They wanted to meet, in their words, “a live author.” I assume the ones they read in school are all dead. Unfortunately, the students were given the wrong time, so they didn’t make it to the signing. Neither did the books in my trunk; B & N was one of the stores that ordered from Ingram in advance.

Writers know about this dilemma. If the stores where you do a signing order from your publisher or Ingram, the sales count in your official sales totals. Books you buy from your own publisher do not. Thus, you can choose either higher official sales numbers by having the bookstores do the ordering or higher profits by taking advantage of the author’s discount and taking your own books. Sales numbers are my priority, so I took books only to those stores – usually small indies – who did not want to order even though I always pointed out to them that Oak Tree books are fully returnable and available to book stores at the industry standard discounts and terms from Ingram.

Despite the glitch with the students, the first signing was a success. I sold perhaps two dozen books, signed another dozen at the manager’s request, and met some nice people. The last signing on the tour was scheduled to be in another B&N in Houston, but it was cancelled for some reason I never understood. Those book-end events (actually non-event in Houston) typified the tour. I had standing room only at Bookworks in Albuquerque, and they sold out. I sat for two hours in Silver City, and the only other person I saw was my wife who graciously stayed by my side. At other venues she wandered the aisles of the stores with the result that she ended up buying almost as many books as I sold. More packed houses when I spoke to the Mystery Club in Taos and the library patrons in Questa, but Canyon, Texas produced a measly six sales. I had signings in chain stores (B & N, Hastings, Waldenbooks), indie bookstores, libraries, a restaurant called Cookin’ Books because owner/cook Maureen has a shelf of books diners can read and/or buy, and at First American Traders in Gallup New Mexico, an old-fashioned Indian Trading Post where I obtained an Indian pot. Unlike my protagonist, I bought
it. Because authors with small presses have to engage in Shameless Self-Promotion, I judged the highlight of my stop in Gallup to be the headline in the Gallup Herald the next morning: “Former professor may fill Hillerman's shoes with new novel.”

On the way home, I had only six books left. We stopped for lunch in Alpine, Texas, and I spotted Front Street Books down the block from our cafĂ©. I stopped in on a lark, and the manager bought five copies. She might have taken the sixth one as well except for the fact that it had already been signed “To Summer.”

Here are the lessons I learned, not in order of importance:
1. Do not schedule 24 signings in 32 days.
2. Always ask how to spell a name before putting pen to paper (If anyone out there is named Summer, I have a book signed to you that you can have at discount. The one I signed just after that one went to someone named “Summre.”
3. Contrary to popular opinion, balloons, bookmarks, and lollipops do not increase sales at your signing table; they only increase traffic.
4. At the risk of stating the obvious, a bookstore staff person who likes your book will sell more books than a glowing review in the local paper.
5. Even with months of advance planning, some stores will be surprised when you show up. Of course this may be due less to bookstore incompetence than to their experience of the unpredictability of authors.
6. Half a case of gin is not enough.

In the section just below the piece, the Editor of Scribbler wrote: Mike’s book is available on He promises to make it to Houston by Christmas so you can buy personally signed copies.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Time for a New Post, So Here I am Again

It is really, really important to have new content in a blog on a regular basis.

This week I attended a marvelous book launch party for Sheila Lowe, forensic handwriting expert who presented at the PSWA conference. Her latest book is Dead Write.

The launch was held in a lovely home located on the Ventura Keys. Sheila was situated with her books at the dining room table. She had someone else taking care of the money changing. (Something I always try to do at events.)

Because the day was flawless most people headed outside where a buffet table was set up with finger foods, lemonade and wine. While having enjoyable conversation, we could look out at the water and the boats parked at each of the residences docks.

I've conversed with Sheila since via email and learned that around eighty people showed up and she sold over 100 books. She also told me that when she moved to Ventura 5 years ago, she joined the Chamber and Ventura County Professional Women’s Network because she didn’t know anyone, and got active in both groups. When her first book came out, everyone showed up and they've continued to do so.

One of her new friends of course hosted the party and kept the buffet table filled. She also had a friend who served as a bartender.

There are some tips in there for all of us. Make yourself known in your community by joining social and or service clubs--and be active in them. Get others to help you with the launch.

I'm always happy to see my fellow authors have a successful book event. If you've done something unusual or different to promote you book, be sure and share.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Inspiration for Writers from the Hanover Virginia Book Festival

What events alter your feelings about book signings and book festivals? Think about it. If you don't get hoped for sales, you probably come away discouraged.


Sometimes things happen that are better than sales. Things like learning from those around you. Today, I noticed the displays of writers who were attracting a lot of attention and realized they had put a great deal of thought into their displays. They hadn't spent a lot of money on enlarged posters for their tables, but they had brought together items (found or inexpensive) to make an attractive and inviting statement about their books. Those displays inspired me to think ahead and plan for a better display of my own next time out.

Last week, I printed in large, bold fonts a page for each of my novels. These pages told what the story was about, and they created sales. This week, I failed to pick up the bag that held those pages, and I missed them. People are more inclined to buy a copy of Hearts Across Forever if they know a little of the story of the white witch of Rose Hall plantation. Now, I am inspired to always have a page that describes the story in my book.

I have created a series of cards (with envelopes) that feature some of my photographs and paintings from exotic destinations. What better way to advertise the "Passenger to Paradise" books? Today, I gave away a card--the reader chose which one--to those people who purchased a book. I am inspired to create more cards and connect them to book sales.

These thoughts are just the beginning. Much more inspired me today, and I can hardly wait for the next book event! I'm making a list...

Mary Montague Sikes